It's not rated and it's old. Most people throw that into the pile of okayness-to-watch. (It's very early and words are hard.) It's a great movie that screams British drama. But the end is remarkably dark. There are moments where one of the main characters is extremely dark and manipulative. What I'm saying is that I could never qualify this as a kid-friendly movie. I can't say exactly what happens at the end, because that would ruin it. But it is not exactly G...
DIRECTORS: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
There are people I'm just wrong about. It is something about liking the things I like. I stand by my opinion that David Lynch isn't as great as people make him out to be. I don't have any leg to stand on when it comes to the Archers, Powell and Pressburger. When it comes to Powell and Pressburger, I see the genius in front of me. I get why it is absolutely beautiful. It takes me a million watchings to actually like it. I don't know how that works. I usually love my first watching of a movie more than the others. With The Red Shoes, it took me four or five watchings to grow beyond an appreciation for it to a place of actually enjoying the movie.
The problem I have with the Archers is that their movies are so darned British. I often say that I'm a big fan of boring as long as I can see why it is boring. I watch lots of stuff that most people would call epicly boring, Yet, everyone I have shown The Red Shoes to are riveted from moment one. I don't know what it is. I still get a little bored at parts. The Red Shoes at least gives some moments to break up the movie that are really cool and abstract. It's their other movies, like The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, that don't have nightmare ballet sequences that ask me to run the marathon with them. But that's what I really like about The Red Shoes. It seems to take these absolutely insane risks that I normally wouldn't associate with this era of British filmmaking. I guess it is not that weird. Powell and Pressburger did Peeping Tom and that thing is as bizarre as it gets. (I also like that one so I've already completely unraveled my original argument.) But Red Shoes toes the line (pun intended) between being a traditional story about the balance of art and love and a story that is about teetering into madness and obsession. This is the first time I've watched The Red Shoes since seeing Phantom Thread and I can't help but make comparisons. My students picked up on the same similar themes and motifs. The idea of the obsessed genius who lacks social graces and the woman that he transforms from nobody to star. Both characters indulge an unhealthy obsession with this woman because she is his property. It actually kind of makes Phantom Thread a little more icky. Both Lermontov and Woodcock are portrayed in a negative light by their respective directors, but there might be a toxic concept behind the idea that this belief is commonly held. The women in both of these movies become the art itself. When art rebels its artist, that is when the artist loses a sense of self. I love how I'm tossing all three directors under the bus right now considering that I loved both of these movies, but it is interesting to see such similarities. All this being said, there is a good chance that Powell, Pressburger, and Anderson are all addressing toxic masculinity and that my criticism is actually what they were shooting for.
I also love the idea of the artist destroying his or her own art. Lermontov destroys Vicky and Craster. Vicky abandons dancing and does something horrible to her art at the end. Craster abandons his opera. Vicky is both the artist and the art. There's so many levels to this movie that I get why it is lauded. There are some execution things that I might be alone on. Everything conceptually is perfect in this movie. The big win for me is the actual ballet of "The Red Shoes." It's such a gutsy and gorgeous moment. I love how trippy it gets. (Half pun not intended.) The use of color and imagery is absolutely gorgeous. On my notes page for this section, I have an image from The Red Shoes of Grisha covered in his playbill costume. I would have loved to be in the planning stages for this because this is an example of a concept coming to life flawlessly. The end AND I MIND AS WELL GET SPOILERY HERE dance sequence once Vicky is dead is one of the coolest ideas conceptually. The dance going on without her is a wonderful idea that kind of feels silly. This is my lack of vulnerability kicking in because everyone else cries at this moment. But I can't help but think of how ridiculous it would be for any play to go on without the protagonist in the role. It works for the context of the story. The Red Shoes will find a way to dance, regardless of circumstance. It's a phenomenal metaphor for obsession and I love it conceptually. But my brain won't shut off sometimes. But again, there are so many brilliant moments. Craster taking off Vicky's shoes only at death to reveal bloodstained tights. The image right before it where the Archers focus on her feet. There is this shot that just screams that the shoes are making her do it. That art crossing into the real world is just teased perfectly. Lesser directors would feel the need to exposition the crap out of that, but they just allow the visuals to take control.
I don't know what to think of Julian Craster. I love how complex his character is. Vicky is clearly the manipulated. In a creepy way, she acts as a Macguffin. She has clear goals and desires, but she is often very reactionary to the stronger personalities in her life. (I was going to say "men in her life", but then I remember that her aunt is also pushy about Vicky's career.) Craster for most of the film is the positive influence in Vicky's life. He offers balance to Lermontov's dominance. He encourages her skills while adjusting to her needs as a person. In turn, she offers him friendship and encouragement, leading eventually to their relationship. When they leave Lermontov, it is clear that they both sacrificed something for the other. Vicky has this decision to leave with Julian and it is a lovely story. (I just figured something out by writing about it. This is why I write...because I have no one to talk to.) Craster moves on with his life but doesn't see that Vicky is suffering more due to her sacrifice. When Vicky returns to Lermontov, she admittedly does so in a duplicitous way. I don't know why she didn't think she'd get caught, but that is part of the suspension of disbelief. Vicky begins to stand up for herself in the weirdest way possible. She misses the manipulation. That's really odd. Stepping into herself involves someone telling her what to do while telling her that she is brilliant. I managed to lose the topic sentence, but I'm coming back to it. Julian Craster's abandonment of his opera is seen as this grand sacrifice. He does all of this as a public declaration of love for Vicky. Vicky sees this but doesn't want him to do it. Worse, Craster wants her to reciprocate the sacrifice. But she wants to dance "The Red Shoes". Craster weirdly becomes the villain in a span of five minutes. The odd thing is that I would never call it a lightswitch moment. I hate when good characters are just evil. Craster isn't evil. He wants what everyone wants. He wants to be loved like he gives love. But his reaction is way over the top. This moment is deserving of a good argument. At worst, it is the moment that would require counseling. But putting the ultimatum on Vicky is insane. But Powell and Pressburger make him look insane, so it's appropriate. He becomes a version of Lermontov in that moment. He wants the control of Vicky, not her love. Sure, he doesn't see that, but it is there. I think there are also visual connections between Julian Craster and Lermontov in those last few scenes. It is almost like Lermontov is looking at a younger version of himself. I might be over reading into that, but there are moments.
See? It's that stuff that gets me excited. It took a lot of watchings of this movie to really love these moments. Powell and Pressburger can boring, but to the few people who are like me, there are moments of absolute genius in these films. The character development and the visuals are gorgeous. It's just the pacing from time to time that really bothers me. That's not the worst thing in the world either. Maybe I should give The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp another go. It's just that I'll then have to watch 49th Parallel as well. Oh well, I can always temper it with another viewing of Peeping Tom.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.